The Complete Stories (Page 161)
"Now when the differences among the intelligences are closely investigated, it is found over and over again that it is you Earthmen, more than any of the others, who are unique. For instance, it is only on Earth that life depends upon metal enzymes for respiration. Your people are the only ones which find hydrogen cyanide poisonous. Yours is the only form of intelligent life which is carnivorous. Yours is the only form of life which has not developed from a grazing animal. And, most interesting of all, yours is the only form of intelligent life known which stops growing upon reaching maturity."
Drake grinned at him. Rose felt her heart suddenly race. It was the nicest thing about him, that grin, and he was using it perfectly naturally. It wasn’t forced or false. He was adjusting to the presence of this alien creature. He was being pleasant-and he must be doing it for her. She loved that thought and repeated it to herself. He was doing it for her; he was being nice to the Hawkinsite for her sake.
Drake was saying with his grin, "You don’t look very large, Dr. Tholan. I should say that you are an inch taller than I am, which would make you six feet two inches tall. Is it that you are young, or is it that the others on your world are generally small?"
"Neither," said the Hawkinsite. "We grow at a diminishing rate with the years, so that at my age it would take fifteen years to grow an additional inch, but-and this is the important point-we never entirely stop. And, of course, as a consequence, we never entirely die."
Drake gasped and even Rose felt herself sitting stiffly upright. This was something new. This was something which, to her knowledge, the few expeditions to Hawkin’s Planet had never brought back. She was torn with excitement but held an exclamation back and let Drake speak for her.
He said, "They don’t entirely die? You’re not trying to say, sir, that the people on Hawkin’s Planet are immortal?"
"No people are truly immortal. If there were no other way to die, there
would always be accident, and if that fails, there is boredom. Few of us live more than several centuries of your time. Still, it is unpleasant to think that death may come involuntarily. It is something which, to us, is extremely horrible. It bothers me even as I think of it now, this thought that against my will and despite all care, death may come."
"We," said Drake, grimly, "are quite used to it."
"You Earthmen live with the thought; we do not. And this is why we are disturbed to find that the incidence of Inhibition Death has been increasing in recent years."
"You have not yet explained," said Drake, "just what the Inhibition Death is, but let me guess. Is the Inhibition Death a pathological cessation of growth?"
"And how long after growth’s cessation does death follow?"
"Within the year. It is a wasting disease, a tragic one, and absolutely incurable."
"What causes it?"
The Hawkinsite paused a long time before answering, and even then there was something strained and uneasy about the way he spoke. "Mr. Smollett, we know nothing about the cause of the disease."
Drake nodded thoughtfully. Rose was following the conversation as though she were a spectator at a tennis match.
Drake said, "And why do you come to Earth to study this disease?"
"Because again Earthmen are unique. They are the only intelligent beings who are immune. The Inhibition Death affects all the other races. Do your biologists know that, Mrs. Smollett?"
He had addressed her suddenly, so that she jumped slightly. She said, "No, they don’t."
"I am not surprised. That piece of information is the result of very recent research. The Inhibition Death is easily diagnosed incorrectly and the incidence is much lower on the other planets. In fact, it is a strange thing, something to philosophize over, that the incidence of the Death is highest on my world, which is closest to Earth, and lower on each more distant planet-so that it is lowest on the world of the star Tempora, which is farthest from Earth, while Earth itself is immune. Somewhere in the biochemistry of the Earthite, there is the secret of that immunity. How interesting it would be to find it."
Drake said, "But look here, you can’t say Earth is immune. From where I sit, it looks as if the incidence is a hundred per cent. All Earthmen stop growing and all Earthmen die. We’ve all got the Inhibition Death."
"Not at all. Earthmen live up to seventy years after the cessation of growth. That is not the Death as we know it. Your equivalent disease is rather one of unrestrained growth. Cancer, you call it. -But come, I bore you."
Rose protested instantly. Drake did likewise with even more vehemence, but the Hawkinsite determinedly changed the subject. It was then that Rose had her first pang of suspicion, for Drake circled Harg Tholan warily with his words, worrying him, jabbing at him, attempting always to get the information back to the point where the Hawkinsite had left off. Not badly, not unskillfully, but Rose knew him, and could tell what he was after. And what could he be after but that which was demanded by his profession? And, as though in response to her thoughts, the Hawkinsite took up the phrase which had begun careening in her mind like a broken record on a perpetual turntable.
He asked, "Did you not say you were a policeman?"
Drake said, curtly, "Yes."
"Then there is something I would like to request you to do for me. I have been wantisg to all this evening, since I discovered your profession, and yet I hesitate. I do not wish to be troublesome to my host and hostess."
"We’ll do what we can."
"I have a profound curiosity as to how Earthmen live; a curiosity which is not perhaps shared by the generality of my countrymen. So I wonder, could you show me through one of the police departments on your planet?"